Will the parents of Abi come to the pool side please.

ImageThis is my stepdaughter Abi (8). The picture speaks many words. Abi is confident, cheeky, dramatic and always singing. Always armed with her quick wit, she is a master (or madam!) of managing to get herself out of trouble by making others laugh. Those who meet her never forget her: she is our shining light, our star.

We have never been pushy parents – I see too many pushing children through auditions and working numerous rehearsals around and sometimes during school hours. I watch from a distance and see the toll it takes on their little ones. These parents I have known since school. They too used to audition for shows. One mum in particular desperately wanted fame (I think the writer Judy Blume classed this type of person as a bun head). She now wants the same for her daughter. Nor are we pushy in the sporty sense. We are not the lone parents standing up to watch our child win a swimming gala race, shouting “faster, faster” from behind the video camera, then giving a twenty minute lecture about technique and how this will evidently need work- even though their child won the race and even had time to tread water and check where his competitors were in relation to him!

Whatever Abi wants to try her hand at, within reason, we let her try. She will find her niche someday but needs the opportunity to try things out first. We have encouraged swimming though. When Abi was little we lived in Cornwall near a river. We figured swimming was essential for safety purposes so enrolled her in the local swimming club. Abi was four. We spent ages choosing swimming costumes (“not that one, it hasn’t got FiFi on!”), goggles and floats. We made it exciting with songs and games, then the day came.

It started much as it ended: Abi, despite being surrounded by peers she knew, screamed! I don’t mean shouting and crying which echoes around the sound-magnifying hall, I mean deep breath, full lung scream! We reassured her that she would be safe and went to the cafe in the hopes that she would calm once we were out of sight. We could still hear her from the cafe. We snuck a peek through the window to see her clinging on to the teacher, legs hitched high out of the water.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher asked why Abi would have such a fear of water. We couldn’t give an answer. We had never “dropped” her in water, she had never been out of her depth. She relished baths, enjoyed splashing around and loved water toys. We couldn’t understand it.

The next week was a little calmer, but Abi continued to cling to her teacher. And so it went on, sometimes screaming, sometimes not. Never jumping in and never letting go. Her peers moved up a class, Abi stayed put. On bad days, the tannoy would boom “Would the parents of Abi come to the poolside please” and we would have to fish her out. We gave up. We figured Abi would learn in her own time. Just like she did with potty training (on her terms), riding her bike (on her terms – she would not let us help!), tying her laces (on her terms) and getting dressed (you guessed it! On her terms!). We don’t always give in to Abi but we choose our battles wisely.

Fast forward to eight years old. Abi is in a school swimming gala. She struggles to swim a width whilst her peers are diving in the deep end. She watches them intently. She decides she wants to do what they are doing. Abi has finally set her terms. Now is the time!

We enrolled Abi in three 1-1 lessons so they could gauge which class she should be in. Over the summer, in three half hour slots, she mastered swimming a front crawl, swimming a width, jumping in the shallow end and swimming for short times out of her depth. She is now having group lessons. Her swimming peers are mainly younger than her by a year or two but she is driven by determination to “show them” at the next school gala and dive in with the boys. Today she was made an example of swimming a width front crawl. The others had to watch and copy. Today she jumped in the deep end for the first time.

Today she smiled.

Abi has decided she actually likes swimming now and is keen to learn everything there is to learn. Abi has decided she will not only “show them” next year but will win too. It is such a magical thing to watch your child grow in confidence. All it took was the opportunity to do it….

…… on her terms!


marmite, marmite everywhere….

ImageI used to run around as a toddler with tea in a bottle and marmite soldiers (toast strips with marmite on) squished in my hands. (Not a lot has changed since – my tea is now in a mug, my toast now sliced in half. The essence is still there). I remember the stickiness oozing through my fingers and the fascinating marks my fingers would then leave on the walls! Marmite has always been a part of my world and there is always a sinking feeling when the jar is nearly empty! It may be more expensive per gallon than petrol (so my mother used to tell me), but it is almost drug like in the way it has a hold on me. I have to have it. It is pure comfort.

As I got older, I experimented: Marmite on toast dipped into boiled eggs, marmite drizzled on to pasta and cheese, marmite dumplings! Friends and colleagues would joke about it, handing me meals and leaving a jar of marmite on the side in case I wanted to use it as freely as children use ketchup!

I first noticed marmite merchandising when I was ten: marmite crisps. My mother never bought these because thesewere a “want” item rather than a “need” item (We worked strictly within these boundaries). As I got older I noticed more products on offer – Marmite chocolate, cashew nuts and biscuits! Even marmite toothpaste and lip balm was on offer! I tried the cashew nuts but it was, I am sad to admit, a little too odd! I didn’t try anything else. Alongside the alternative treats, jars changed. Squeezy bottles were now an option, different “collectable” flavours came in to play: old, extra old, champagne, gold. I tried them all! (The gold was my personal favourite) There are now marmite tea pots, aprons, china pots, mugs….. you name it, marmite has made it.

Marmite even made an appearance on an antiques TV show. Old jars (I can’t remember now if they were open or unopened), from years ago – particularly the limited edition ones are, apparently, worth money! What a shame I didn’t keep all the jars I have gone through!

So, after three days with no marmite (possibly a record for me), I have finally relented and bought a jar. I am feeling creative so the floor is open to suggestions: Have you ever cooked with marmite? Have you ever baked with marmite? Have you added marmite to dishes in any unusual way? Maybe you are not a lover of marmite (I call these the marmaladi). Whether you are a lover or not, I would love to hear from you.

For now though, my toast has popped up. Time to break the seal and dig right in!

I will hold the mirror up to you

When you try to hurt me I will smile and close the door. You try to enter my mind and fly around in fits of excitement playing games but the way is barred and the only storm raging is yours. You think I don’t see you with eyes wide open, but I do. You have no power over me, my life is my own. I will not react.


If you try to hurt her, the door will not close. You are in her mind playing in the playground she freely shares. There are no storms there but bitter laughter echoing in her head. She is waking up. She is seeing you of her own accord. She knows. If you think you can continue, my own storm will brew. You will not be solitary in your bitter world for I will join you. I will hold the mirror up so you see yourself. I will hold her up so you see what she has become. I will show you the results of your mindless acts then I will take her hand.

We will walk towards beauty, towards love, towards calm, leaving you behind in your ugly, dark, lifeless world.

The oddity of cats!

Image I have always had cats. As a child, I would whisper my secrets to Bridie. She kept all my secrets. Being a stereotypical female cat, she was fairly allusive, but if I needed her she would somehow turn up. She would sit by me and keep me company. Her warm body calming or healing me. Sooty was the same. A healer. He would know when he was needed. He really was the funniest, soppiest cat.


Now I am older. I have my own house. I have three cats. Charlie (pictured above), is our baby. We also have Tigger and Heidi. Since having my own cats, I have observed them closely. The boys often stare in the same direction at, well, nothing in particular. I have tried to break their vision by moving my face in front of theirs. They just look around me and continue to stare at the “nothing.”

Image Tigger (pictured here), is the most sensitive to people’s emotions. We got him for free from freecycle: a recycling website which ordinarily deals in furniture. Tigger was unloved, living in filth and very nervy. He is still scared of loud noises and plastic bags. And yet, If somebody is poorly, tigger is there. If somebody is upset, Tigger is there. He sits as close as he can to you and settles down. He is soporific and calming.


ImageHeidi is another rescue baby. She was found in a laundrette with kittens, curled up amongst the washing. Now, if you can’t find her, she is likely to be found in amongst the ironing, under blankets or balancing on the washing line ready to swipe any fingers which try to remove pegs! Heidi is, as Bridie was, allusive. She spends most of her time outside and yet, if Abi is poorly, Heidi is there. Heidi is extremely reactive to the emotions of children, in particular.


I can understand why most literature portrays witches as having cats. I can understand why stories about cats usually contain magic of a sort. They truly are magical. They see things most people cannot, they alert us to movements we otherwise would not have known about. They heal and calm and just know when to be close to us.


As I type this, I have Charlie sat next to me, Tigger is stepping through puddles outside in a way which makes him look like he is wearing high heels, and Heidi is on the trampoline, though due to the weather, she is not jumping! (She does! Honest!) 

Has anyone else experienced the oddity of cats?! I am sure any cat owner would have tales to tell!


Cue the over the glasses stare: “And which one are you?”

ImageWe all have labels, right? Mum, career seeker, health conscious, OCD (I believe most of us have an element of OCD – a need for routine of some sort). I have many labels. Although I don’t like the labeling society seems to crave! Why should we be put into neat little boxes and filed into the consciousness of the many?

I hid my sexuality until I was nineteen. From that moment on, I have been “filed!” I have a label which has been an interesting one to wear. I met a very unsavoury female and traveled each month to meet up with her. Of course I felt liberated. I had waited my whole life to be me and here was a door to a world I had only dreamed of. It was unhealthy though. Far too many negatives surrounded this relationship. My mother was worried and used to ask what I was up to every time I went away. One day she shone lights in my eyes and checked my arms to see if I had been taking drugs. I snapped. “I’m gay!” I shouted. “I’m seeing someone.”

“Oh I always knew that.” Mum said. Nineteen years of hiding my “label” and worrying about how Mum would react and she was fine. She knew all along! Her only worry was the absence of grandchildren. Now Mum knew, the rest of the world could. I worked with young people with special needs and had done for some years. I went to my boss and explained my sexuality. I did this because some male members of staff can’t do personal care for the girls and I wanted to check I wasn’t going to be in that bracket. I wasn’t. My honesty was appreciated and I carried on as normal. I went through school with some of my colleagues and their only problem was that I hadn’t told them earlier. It turns out one, who was in my “friendship group” (I was always on the outskirts of any group) also wore the secret label. I am pleased to report that she is now happily married to her wife, has a steady job in the police force and is doing very well for herself.


I met my current partner , Cath, seven years ago when I was 24. Eight years older than me, she had only worn her label openly for a year. The response from her family was different. Her Mum took baby Abi out of her arms believing it was an infectious disease. She was told it was a phase. Something she would try out then leave behind. Her parents have always been nice to me after all “If I had the right equipment, I would be the best thing since sliced bread.” So I have been told. Cath drip fed the label to her family for fear of being disowned. Her Aunt was fine. Her Nonna knew all along. Her Brother and sister in law were also accepting and this was a huge relief for Cath. It took her five years from meeting me to inform the family. They know but it is not talked about. Cath’s parents have really come to terms with this in the last two years. Maybe I have proven my worth. I have been supportive, loving and providing and always will be. In return, they are supportive and hello’s and goodbyes now involve a kiss on the cheek. The first time this happened I was elated! I felt acceptance. Nothing beats that feeling.

The negative reactions are still present. At Abi’s fifth birthday party (she is now eight), one Mum told her children to say “thank you for inviting me” to Abi’s Mum. She pointed to me. I said “oh, no. This is Abi’s Mum,” and pointed to Cath. (This often confuses people because ironically Abi does look more like me!) The mother said “Oh.” Threw us a filthy look and promptly dragged her children away from the party. If our paths cross now, she still blanks us. We are not worried by this but we do worry about how Abi will feel. She is, thankfully, savvy and headstrong. She knows that she is happy, healthy, loved and safe and that is all that matters.

More recently, a drunk man unfortunate enough to be homeless yelled “lesbians” at us from across the street. Our previous neighbours would shout “dirty f***ing dyke” at Cath and another parent from Abi’s school has targeted us in some kind of witch hunt which has seen him banned from school grounds.

On the other side of the coin, school have been excellent. We have solid friends old and new and family around us. Abi is growing up with an open mind to different lifestyles. We are used to the “so which one are you?” when people try to figure out who is the Mum. We are used to the “I thought one was meant to be more masculine?” (neither of us are) We are used to the surprise when people realise we are in a long term forever relationship. Stereotype seems to label us as sexual deviants who flit from one person to the other.  We are not.

We are also used to the “and who are you?” Which I often get.

Abi ended up in hospital with suspected meningitis when she was six. The doctor asked who “Mum” was. Cath verified it was her. She looked over her glasses and me and said “and who are you?!” I said I was Abi’s other mother. My name was scribbled into the margins of her paperwork. This happens often too. Hence the self made title “margin mother.”

We are no different to any other family! We do school runs and after school clubs, we deal with tantrums, illnesses and fads. We love to snuggle on the sofa and watch films or walk along the beaches to see what we can find. We bake, we read, we write, we love, we cry, we have routine and standards.  It isn’t easy but where there is acceptance, it is accepted whole heartedly. We also have labels but we wear them proudly.

Sage through the ages (and a little TCP)

Yesterday my partner and I enjoyed a rare, child free day, in the house. I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have to be “mum’s taxi” or general reminders of “have you finished with that?! Put it away then!” I was chatting away yesterday – as I do often, and I was replied with gentle snoring! My partner had fallen asleep. This is not rare. I must bore her (yes, her) with my incessant ramblings often!

We were invited out for a few drinks but declined. A nice home cooked meal, some wine, a bit of X Factor (yes, we are that classy!), were on the cards. We were gonna have a snuggle night without interruptions in the form of “MUUUUUUMMMMMMM the battery on my MP3 has run out” or “Mum, can I have…” (insert word here i.e chocolate or anything else which is not allowed past bedtime!) All we had to worry about were our crazy cats and whether they were trampling all over us, clawing at the sofas or flicking litter all over the carpet. (Eating the left overs of our dinner was something we had overlooked!)

Before long, replies of snores were replaced by replies of coughing. “I love you was replaced by “I can’t swallow, it hurts.”

I know this feeling. I could feel her pain. I used to suffer from tonsillitis annually from the ages of 9-26! I was offered a tonsillectomy but, attractive as the prospect of unlimited ice cream was, I was too scared. I remember nights of coughing and drinking water. I remember Mum: “Drink this sage tea.” Cue the arrival of sage dragged in from the garden. “Gargle with TCP.” Have you ever done this?! Then it requires no explanation.

Naturally, the voice of mother came out yet again last night as I recalled what she used to suggest. My partner dutifully gargled with TCP, has had plenty of fluids and is taking honey. We have throat sprays and tablets courtesy of our neighbour and I am about to go to the corner shop to buy some boiled sweets and throat sweets and yes, sage!

We are always interested in home remedies for all ailments. I find it very satisfying knowing that I have been able to make up some medicine/tea/ointment which has helped.


Over to you! Calling all experts in sore throats and tonsillitis! Do you have a home remedy you use? Does it work! What did your parents/grandparents used to suggest?


I hope to hear from you all soon – for now, the lure of sage is calling! (and TCP!)